Considering all the curriculum teachers are required to cover throughout a school year, why should a teacher consider incorporating Greek Mythology?
While there may be many reasons, I have noted four of my top reasons why teachers–from elementary to high school–should incorporate Greek Mythology into their curriculum.
1. Greek Mythology is FUN!
First and foremost, teachers should include Greek Mythology in their lessons because it is just so fun! What better way to engage students than to provide them with educational content that is exciting for them? Consider for a moment the entertainment choices students (and teachers ourselves) might make outside of the classroom. What kinds of books do they enjoy reading? What kinds of films and TV shows do they like to watch? Chances are that what your students consider “entertaining” contains any number of the following: drama, romance, intrigue, humor, war, jealousy, plot twists, irony, supernatural forces, surprise, tension, suspense, deception, etc. Greek Mythology also contains all of these things and more! All the elements that create a good story can be found in these highly-engaging myths!
Of course, as Language Arts teachers, our goal is not simply to entertain our students, but to help them learn important literary skills. What better way to do this than with myths from ancient Greece?! A text that students WANT to read; that they WANT to write about; that they WANT to discuss in class! Studying Greek Mythology produces engaged students that are a dream come true for English teachers everywhere!
2. Greek Mythology is EVERYWHERE!
Secondly, for those with the knowledge, remnants of Greek Mythology and Greek culture can be found pretty much everywhere. Marketing? Check! Business? Check! Sports? Check! Films? Check! And the list goes on and on! We can literally find traces of Greek Mythology all over our own modern world. We just need to know what to look for!
The Olympic Games
For example, I’m writing this a few months before the opening ceremonies of the 2021 Summer Olympic Games. The ancient Olympics were more than an athletic competition–they were a religious festival celebrating the king of the gods, Zeus. Isn’t it amazing that this tradition of sport has somehow persisted across thousands of years?
Anyone who has ever gazed upon a star-studded sky at night has–whether knowingly or not–been gazing upon the influence of Greek Mythology! The planets and constellations are often named after figures from Greek myths–the planets themselves are named after the Roman counterparts to the Greek deity! Even the Apollo Space Program, famous for the first lunar landings, is named after the Greek sun god.
The English (Greek) Language
Many of us have probably unknowingly made reference to Greek Mythology just by speaking English. Many English words have Greek roots that reference the ancient stories. For example, “chronic” or “chronology” or “anachronism” all have reference to Cronos, the god of time and father of many of the Greek gods and goddesses. Words such as “arachnid” or “arachnophobia” stem from the story of a girl named Arachne who was turned into a spider by the goddess Athena. Even the word “phobia” itself refers to Phobos, the Greek god of fear!
Business and Marketing
Additionally, Greek Mythology plays a large role in the world of marketing and advertising. Well-known and extremely recognizable companies such as Amazon, Nike, Trident gum and Starbucks, all use elements from myths in their branding and marketing. Sometimes, these nods to Greek Mythology are a sort of inside joke. Take, for example, the recognizable Starbucks logo. To the uninformed, it appears to be nothing more than an interesting drawing of a person. To one knowledgeable, it is a depiction of a Siren–those alluring creatures from Greek Mythology whose call is irresistible. For those who feel the daily call of caffeine, the call of the Siren is relatable!
We also see the influence of Greek Mythology and ancient Greek culture show up in architecture, educational practices (questioning, Socratic seminars, etc.), medicine and many other areas. If we are ignorant of these stories and various elements of Greek culture, we may not be fully understanding the culture in which we live.
3. Greek Mythology Helps Us Understand Literature
Just like we see traces of Greek Mythology all around us in our physical world, we also see traces in the world of literature. For centuries, authors have referenced key figures and stories from Greek myths that deepen the meaning of their text. A lack of knowledge of these myths would leave readers completely clueless as to what the author was saying! Or, even worse, an allusion to Greek Mythology could fly right over our heads without us aware we were missing anything at all!
Noticing those allusions and quickly grasping the allusions’ effect on the text create a much deeper and richer reading experience. Shakespeare constantly alluded to Greek Mythology So much so, that a lack of mythology knowledge makes Shakespeare quite difficult to read (among other things, of course.). Peter Pan, The Harry Potter Series, Frankenstein, Heart of Darkness, Jane Eyre and so many more works than I could ever possibly list have been influenced by and contain references to Greek Mythology.
4. Greek Mythology is Instructive
The ancient Greek Myths offer us so much in terms of learning and personal growth. We can better understand human nature and the effects of one’s choices. The foibles and follies of humans are clearly visible. We see both virtue and vice among these stories that can help us consider what kind of people we want to be and how we want to show up in the world. We can learn a lot about ourselves and human beings from these stories!
Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe that every Greek figure should be held up as a model of morality. Many of the characters and figures in Greek Mythology are actually quite the opposite of a role model, exhibiting many undesirable characteristics. By examining these stories, however, we can see common mistakes and human pitfalls and choose a more morally straight path.
Despite the fact that these stories have been around for thousands of years, they are still able to spark important conversations about current social issues. Our students are growing up in a complex world facing complex issues that Greek Mythology helps to bring to light.
What is YOUR Opinion?
Well, those are my four top reasons for studying Greek Mythology:
- Greek Mythology is fun!
- Greek Mythology is found all around us!
- Greek Mythology helps us understand additional works of literature!
- Greek Mythology can be instructive!
I’d love to hear what YOU think! What are your reasons for (or against) studying Greek Mythology with your students? Why do you think that teaching and studying Greek Mythology–particularly in our classrooms–is a good (or bad) idea?
Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)